GREEN BAY – Julius Peppers, the NFL's fourth all-time leader in sacks, announced his retirement Friday after 17 NFL seasons, three of which he spent with the Packers from 2014-16.
Brought to Green Bay as an "elephant" outside linebacker, Peppers racked up 104 tackles, 25 sacks, eight forced fumbles and two interceptions returned for a touchdown in 48 regular-season appearances with the Packers. His only missed practices during that three-year stretch came via mandated rest days.
The nine-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher expressed his gratitude to former coaches and teammates in an article posted Friday morning in the Players Tribune, and also took a moment to thank Packers fans for how welcome they made him feel.
"I guess more than anything, Green Bay just felt like home," Peppers wrote. "You know, small town, good people who love their football … it was a really great experience being a part of that culture. I was sad to leave Green Bay, and I don't think I would have left to go anywhere but home to Carolina."
The Packers and former general manager Ted Thompson sent shockwaves through the NFL when they quietly signed the nine-time Pro Bowl defensive end on the morning of March 15, 2014.
While Peppers' durability came as advertised – he played all 16 regular-season games in 15 of his 17 seasons – the 6-foot-7, 287-pound pass rusher left his mark on the Packers' locker room with his quiet, but intense leadership.
Voted a team captain in all three seasons with the team, Peppers was unanimously praised for a pregame speech he delivered before the Packers' 55-14 rout of the Chicago Bears on Nov. 9, 2014. The performance propelled Green Bay to winning nine of 10 on its way to an appearance in the NFC Championship.
"I love my time with Julius. I love him as a person, as a teammate," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "He's still a dear friend to this day. My sadness in playing with him is not giving him a chance to win a ring because of all the players who have played in the NFL, there's not many that deserve a ring like Julius Peppers because he's one of the all-time greats."
In a list of thank yous he delivered to former teammates, Peppers made mention of how much he cherished his time playing with Rodgers. In addition to Rodgers' professionalism, Peppers also appreciated the 14-month stretch where the two-time MVP quarterback completed successful critical Hail Marys to Randall Cobb, Jeff Janis and Richard Rodgers.
"Just for being an all-time great player and teammate … and for making me believe that somehow, a Hail Mary can be a high-percentage throw," Peppers wrote. "I've never seen anybody do some of the things you can do, man. I'm glad I had a front seat for some of it."
Perhaps Peppers' biggest impact was felt in the linebackers room and his mentorship of Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and the rest of Green Bay's edge rushers.
When Peppers signed with Green Bay, Matthews was the eldest pass rusher in the Packers' defense. Matthews never really had a veteran to learn from during his first five NFL seasons other than Greene, who coached Green Bay's outside linebackers during Matthews' first five seasons.
"It was the first time I had somebody to bounce ideas off of, talk to and have some really good wisdom from someone besides the coaching staff," said Matthews in an interview with packers.com in December 2016. "So for him to always be able to do that not only to make big play after big play, but also that kind of leader, not just in our room but from our entire defense, I think that's what he kind of embodies. What he represents for us and he represents that as a defensive captain not only with what he does on the field but with his resume."
Peppers moved past former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan for sole possession of fifth in NFL career sacks with his second-quarter takedown of Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler during his final season with the Packers.
He finally surpassed Chris Doleman for sole possession of fourth all-time when Peppers was credited with a strip sack of Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston in October 2017.
A six-time All-Pro and former NFL defensive rookie of the year, Peppers missed a remarkable two games in his NFL career due to injury. He finishes having played in 187 consecutive contests (including playoffs) dating back to the 2008 season opener.
"Seventeen years is a long time to be playing this game. It's two careers for a lot of people," Peppers wrote. "I'm thankful that I have been able to play so long and still be healthy. I'm not all banged up and beaten down. I still feel good.
"But as much as I would love to play forever, I know that I can't. It's gotta end at some point. That point is now."
NFL Career Sack Leaders
- Bruce Smith (1985-2003) 200
- Reggie White (1985-2000) 198
- Kevin Greene (1985-99) 160
- Julius Peppers (2002-18) 159½
- Chris Doleman (1985-99) 150½
*Sacks became an official NFL statistic in 1982
Former Packers LB Julius Peppers announced his retirement from the NFL on Feb. 1, 2019, after 17 NFL seasons. Peppers spent three seasons in Green Bay, from 2014-16.